EAP Tyson Seburn  

Thesis development? Yes, you need it.

My students need to write a full essay on their upcoming midterm exams. They’ll be given 50 minutes to complete it, quite a task really.  To prepare, we’ve been doing timed writing practice exercises left, right and centre.  In planning, what I’ve found challenging to find wasn’t simple enough topics (TOEFL works well – I’m not trying to test content knowledge after all), but thesis statements that contain a good plan of development.  So, I decided to create some.

The reason I was looking for prepared thesis statements was because  not only will they be given a choice of thesis statements on my exam, but they also struggle with creating well-developed thesis statements and therefore essays in general. For example, if I gave them the follow topic question:

Why do you think people attend universities?

I often get the following vague, undeveloped thesis, which in turn results in an unfocused, often simplistic structure:

People attend universities for many different reasons

or the only slightly more developed

People attended universities for both positive and negative reasons;

at best, if lessons have sunk in at all, we might get the three-pronged formulaic statement

People attend universities for three general reasons: expectations, love of learning and getting a job,

These examples may work well for certain language assessment exams or expectations for an intermediate range, but fall short of the rigorous demands of undergraduate essay style.

What I put together as a practice activity and model were three developed thesis statements on a progressive scale of  development and complexity, where Thesis 1 is just a step above the third thesis above.  I do give students the choice of which they want to base their essay content (and obviously structure) on, but encourage the weaker students to go for Thesis 1 and the stronger Thesis 3.  I’ve included the topic questions and thesis choices here.  Successfully written essays based on Thesis 1 can demonstrate that next time, those students should try out Thesis 2 instead and vice versa.

Giving students a selection of thesis statements not only practises essay organisation, but also models varying degrees of thesis development and complexity–something students desperately need in order to push past the Mickey Mouse essay and into something deeper that they’ll be expected to do later in their various disciplines.

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5 thoughts on “Thesis development? Yes, you need it.

  1. George Might

    Hey Tyson,

    I like how you’ve given some range of thesis statements for those topics. It takes time, practice and a lot of exposure to development before they really get a hold of it. It’s like anything really. Are you planning to put up more? Maybe I’ll get some on.


    1. Tyson

      Thanks, George. I don’t have immediate plans to put up more as my semester is coming to a close, but maybe next semester the opportunity will arise. Feel free to use these and maybe if you come up with some, share it. I’d love to collaborate.

  2. Sabridv

    Hi Tyson,
    I loved the idea. I don’t have to teach my students essay writing. However, I liked the idea of catering for mixed abilities. It really helps learners to have a choice according to their real capabilities at the time of doing an activity, and also having a clear sense of progress, as they will next time write an essay based on a more complex thesis statement. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tyson

      Hi Sabrina,
      One one hand, consider yourself lucky in not having to teach this particular point. I am teaching in the higher-ed sector at the moment, so it comes up constantly.

      I agree about the choice for students based on ability. It’s not really that hard to come up with multi-level activities. Even this one is perhaps more work in creating than it has to be. One way is to make the same activity, but have different expectations depending on learner ability. For me, this particular activity had the second purpose in modeling types of thesis development.

      Like you said, hopefully after successfully using a simpler version, when moving on to the next, learners will feel that sense of progress.

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